In Business : No Curves ahead, as franchise ends for fitness club owners
Photo by Janet Hefler
After seven years going round the Curves exercise circuit, franchise owner and manager Bethany Seidman has decided to get off. With her franchise agreement coming to an end, Ms. Seidman plans to close her studio space at Woodland Center on March 16. Members can get in their last workouts on March 15.
Curves of Martha's Vineyard is part of a national chain of women's fitness clubs. Its program, designed specifically for women, offers a complete cardio and strength-training workout in 30 minutes, according to the company's website. Participants move around a circuit made up of resistance machines that work every major muscle group.
In addition to the workout circuit, Curves offers a complimentary weight management program, with free classes once a month open to the public. The club also participates in the CurveSmart program, which involves a programmable, personalized card that holds a member's data, based on periodic fitness evaluations and individual progress. Curves members receive one-on-one instruction, as well as a supportive group environment.
Since Curves opened nine years ago, Ms. Seidman estimates about 1,000 Island women have been through its doors. She said there are now 100-plus members that use the club on a regular basis.
In addition to exercise and health benefits for members, over the years Curves Martha's Vineyard has contributed to many non-profit causes. Projects included food drives for the Island Food Pantry, collections for the Red Stocking Fund, and workout events to benefit the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, and breast cancer organizations.
Curves, before and after
Ms. Seidman is the Martha's Vineyard franchise's second owner. The first, Sandie Burke-Gaudet, opened Curves behind Radio Shack's former location on State Road in May 2004. Ms. Seidman said since she has always been athletically inclined, the new fitness club caught her interest and she became a member in 2005. When she learned the business was going to be sold, she said, "It seemed like something I wanted to venture into, which I did."
Ms. Seidman and her husband, Dan, bought the franchise in 2006. They moved Curves to its present location at the Woodland Center at 495 State Road in Vineyard Haven in 2008. Their franchise agreement was for five years, which they extended for two more. Rather than opt for another extension, Ms. Seidman said, "I'm ready to let go and move on."
The Curves venture was a complete lifestyle change for the former operating room nurse. "It's a 24/7 job," Ms. Seidman said. "Although nursing has elements of that when you work long shifts, it's a different kind of intensity."
Part of what makes Ms. Seidman's job so demanding is that unlike many other franchise owners, she also manages her own club. As a result, she said, "You're still connected with it, even when you're away from it."
In spite of that, Ms. Seidman said she is the kind of person who always likes to be learning something new. She completed a 12-month course a year ago to become certified in medical coding and billing. When asked what she plans to do next, Ms. Seidman said her first choice would a job in that field, and her second choice, to return to nursing. She has kept up with her continuing education requirements to maintain her license as a registered nurse.
"Even though they're sad, the members are very positive in encouraging me to move on," Ms. Seidman said. "I find that very helpful." She recalled that long-time member Ruth Schaffner told her, "You need to go and do what you want to do."
What members will miss
Many members are holding out hope that someone will purchase the franchise before March 16, Ms. Seidman said. Although she and husband have been actively seeking a buyer, no one has come forward yet. Their franchise is currently listed on a Curves website, www.buycurves.com/fsbo, that advertises ones available for purchase world-wide. She said they want to make it affordable and are willing to negotiate on a price in order to keep the club going.
"Our goal, ideally, would be to have someone who will purchase the club and come in and take it over," Ms. Seidman said. "We would like to let people know we're looking for someone to take it over, so that we could keep these women who are really loyal to this type of workout coming here."
Curves has served as a niche for many middle-aged to older women who are more comfortable there than in clubs with a younger crowd, she added.
"They just really like the atmosphere, that it's all women, and they can come in anytime, rather than having to attend classes," Ms. Seidman said. "But they really like the fact they can come in and it's just 30 minutes, because women don't want to waste their time. Thirty minutes is it and they want to be out."
Some do hang out longer, though, because of the social aspect.
"A lot of friendships developed here; it's a very community-oriented place," she said. "Women like to come together and work out together, but there's also a lot of networking that goes on. 'Do you know someone that can fix this,' or, 'Where's a nice place to go to eat?' It's definitely more than working out."
Several members discussed what the loss of Curves means to them when The Times visited the club last week.
"Somebody buy it quickly so we can keep coming here," Wendy Rose of Oak Bluffs, a member since 2004, said. "We're all feeling very bad about this. It's perfect for what we need. It keeps us strong and moving."
Her friend Maureen Anderson, also of Oak Bluffs, agreed. "I'm really going to miss it," she said. "I've met a lot of friends here."
"A big draw to this place has to do with the social aspect," Judy Baynes of Edgartown said. "I've gotten to know people from all over the Island whose paths might not have crossed with mine if it hadn't been for Curves."
Ms. Baynes said many Curves members get together outside the club for lunch and to participate in activities such as walks sponsored by the Land Bank.
In addition to the social perks and the workout circuit, Ms. Seidman said a lot of members have told her that what they are going to miss most is the strength-training equipment Curves offers.
"They're not quite sure about going to a traditional gym, because these machines are designed for women," she said. "The size of them sort of fits women better, and because the machines are all hydraulic, they don't have to hop off the machine and set the weight, and hop back on, that type of thing."
Ms. Seidman said she and staff members Barbara Ravera and Deborah Pytko are "brainstorming daily" on what other Island health clubs to recommend that their members go to next to keep up their workouts.